Astronomers have discovered a mysterious object that they say could be a black hole or a neutron star.
Both black holes and neutron stars are remnants of dead stars.
“When the most massive stars die, they collapse under their own gravity and leave black holes; When stars that are a little less massive die, they explode into a supernova and leave dense, dead remains of stars called neutron stars, “the Gravitational Wave Observatory with Laser Interferometer (LIGO) explains in a statement.
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LIGO, operated by MIT and Caltech, backed by the National Science Foundation, explained that astronomers have been fascinated by the “gap” between black holes and neutron stars. “The heaviest known neutron star is no more than 2.5 times the mass of our sun, or 2.5 solar masses, and the lightest known black hole is approximately 5 solar masses,” it said in a statement. “The question remained: Is there something in this so-called mass gap?”
In a new study by LIGO and the Virgo detector in Europe, scientists announced the discovery of a 2.6-solar-mass object, firmly placing it in the mass gap. “The object was found on August 14, 2019, as it merged with a 23-solar-mass black hole, generating a splash of gravitational waves detected on Earth by LIGO and Virgo,” the scientists said in the statement.
An article on the discovery has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
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Astronomers from Northwestern University, the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee and the University of Padua in Italy also participated in the research.
“We have been waiting decades to solve this mystery,” study co-author Vicky Kalogera, a professor at Northwestern University, said in the statement. “We don’t know if this object is the heaviest known neutron star, or the lightest known black hole, but a record is broken anyway.”
“This is going to change the way scientists talk about neutron stars and black holes,” added co-author Patrick Brady, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and a spokesman for LIGO Scientific Collaboration, in the statement. “The mass gap may, in fact, not exist at all, but it may be due to limitations in observation capabilities. Time and more observations will tell.”
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The cosmic fusion was named GW190814 and resulted in a final black hole of about 25 times the mass of the sun, located about 800 million light years from Earth. Scientists point out that part of the fused mass turned into an explosion of energy in the form of gravitational waves.
“Before the two objects merged, their masses differed by a factor of 9, making this the most extreme known mass ratio for a gravitational wave event,” the scientists said in the statement.
A light year, which measures distance in space, equals about 6 trillion miles.
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Last year, in a separate study, scientists, for the first time, detected a black hole that was devouring a neutron star.
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The Australian National University (ANU), which participated in the research, explained that the “cataclysmic event” was detected on August 14, 2019 by gravitational wave discovery machines in the United States and Italy. The machines detected waves in space and time from an event that occurred about 8.55 trillion billion km from Earth, ANU said in a statement.
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